“‘Identification’ speaks” by Mike Masterson

MIKE MASTERSON: After 22 years
‘Identification’ speaks
by Mike Masterson | January 29, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.

Following my latest column about the plight of prison inmate Belynda Goff of Green Forest imprisoned for 22 years, I received reactions from readers, including one on the newspaper’s website from Mr. or Ms. “Identification.” Sounds to me like a pseudonym for someone who in 1994 was perhaps involved in the rush to convict the mother (now grandmother) of first-degree murder.

I figure thinking adults who take a few minutes to read about the long-incarcerated woman, and model prisoner, are able to see how badly this case was mishandled from the earliest moments after she called the operator when she wakened predawn to discover her fatally bludgeoned husband, Stephen, lying bloodied and dead just inside their front door.

Here’s what “Identification” wrote: “Stephen Goff died inside the door of he and his wife’s apartment, from brutal head injury–with blood, and blood splatter on these inside walls–and inside the bathtub drain. The time of his death corresponds to the time of a disturbance by an upstairs neighbor, where a locked-out Mr. Goff is hammered to death upon entry. His dead body blocked the door, falling against the inside door hinges. All the facts, combined with a motive of an irritated wife of a philandering spouse, led to the speedy jury conviction.

“Tell the reader the facts of this case, Masterson–and then explain to us how Belynda Goff’s DNA could anyway be exculpatory for her defense. She was proven guilty, by a pile of evidence, and reasonable motive–not a weak case.”
Since “Identification” insisted on facts, I asked Karen Thompson, senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project in New York, which has taken Goff as a pro bono client, for her reaction to these comments.

No one knows facts of this case better. Thompson had filed a lengthy motion for Goff’s resentencing with the Carroll County Circuit Court on Dec. 28. That action argued Goff was denied her due process when crucial DNA evidence that might have helped prove her innocence became inexplicably and inexcusably “lost” by the sheriff’s office, along with recorded interviews.
How oddly convenient for those who immediately jumped to conclusions in this miscarriage.

Thompson is asking the court and Carroll County Prosecutor Tony Rogers out of simple fairness (and doing the right thing) to free Goff for the 22 years she already has served, or order a new trial. Thompson also suspects “Identification” is likely someone directly involved in Goff’s case with an oddly exaggerated personal ax to grind 22 years later. Who else would care enough to continue a crusade of this nature?

The attorney said her brief answered facts were supported by extensive exhibits, including “Identification’s” point about blood evidence and references to a hammer as the purported murder weapon. Thompson told me she’d ask the writer four fact-related questions:  “If no one could get in and out of the Goffs’ apartment, why couldn’t police find a murder weapon? “If no one could get in and out of the apartment, how did the EMT get in?  “Why does this person think DNA from the drain where Stephen showered every day was probative? Why did he say the blood was running down Mr. Bill Gage’s hand when the lab analyst said she barely had enough to sample and she couldn’t even test the swab to determine if it even was blood because there was so little material?
“Why did police not conduct further investigation into the men with bats that two neighbors saw near the house on the day of his murder?”

To Thompson’s questions, I’d also ask where was even one photo of all this supposed blood other than Stephen Goff’s? No fingerprints taken at the murder scene? Really?
Then I asked Goff’s grown daughter, Bridgette Jones, her thoughts on “Identification’s” comments.

“I keep re-reading this,” she said, expressing confidence she was certain who’d written them. “Paramedics and police entered and exited the home numerous times before our father’s body was ever moved. Not only that, lead investigating officer Archie Rousey testified he did not dust for fingerprints because by the time he got there so many people had come in and out the door.

“As to the ‘pile of evidence’ mentioned, like the hammers Officer Rousey testified to being murder weapons, the Crime Laboratory said they found no DNA (after two tests!) and that they couldn’t re-create the crime scene with the hammers submitted.
“They also said the hammers didn’t match the Sheetrock scrapes behind Stephen Goff. There are those who will stop at nothing in our mother’s case. Don’t even get me started on the drain malarkey. Karen Thompson can literally break down the drain into physical science and tell you just how irrelevant it is.

“One more thing,” Jones continued. “About that speedy jury conviction comment. Numerous times from the get-go the trial judge insisted to the jury that they be speedy and that he wanted this over with ASAP so he could spend time with his grandkids. This is literally recorded in documentation. And let’s not forget that same judge actually entered the jury deliberation room!”

Care about justice, valued readers? Got 10 minutes? Please Google this case and read about it. More to come.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.
Editorial on 01/29/2019

Read the column here.

Have Mercy by Mike Masterson

Mike Masterson | January 22, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.

Faithful readers know I’ve written more than a handful of columns spanning four years about the alarming plight of mother and grandmother Belynda Goff of Green Forest, now imprisoned over 22 years for first-degree murder. There are valid reasons behind such persistence.
Convicted in 1996, Goff was sentenced to life for the murder of her husband two years earlier, a crime to which the then-34-year-old refused to plead guilty because she said she wouldn’t confess to a crime she didn’t commit.

I’m yet again urging those who care about justice and fairness (remember Janie Ward?) to Google Belynda’s name and learn the facts behind this stinker of a case.
Karen Thompson, senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project in New York, has been diligently urging the criminal justice system and our governor to extend mercy, either by allowing Goff’s freedom for time served, or granting the woman a new trial, or deserved clemency. Thus far no responses.
It’s obvious this travesty is mired in the muck of politics.
So today, I wanted you read verbatim the “Preliminary Statement” from the motion to modify Goff’s sentence that Thompson filed Dec. 28 with the Carroll County Circuit Court. This 26-page motion seeks the guaranteed due process our justice system never afforded Goff.

“For nearly a quarter of a century, Belynda Goff has steadfastly maintained her innocence of the murder of her husband, Stephen Goff. In 1996, the Carroll County district attorney offered her a 10-year sentence if she would ‘admit’ to killing Stephen in their home. Knowing she did not commit the crime, and believing she could easily prove her innocence by refuting the ‘proof’ of guilt presented, Ms. Goff went to trial to prove her innocence. To her great horror, she was convicted. Put another way, Ms. Goff has now served over two decades of a life sentence for asserting her innocence; she would have been freed in 2006 (and likely even earlier given her exemplary record) if she had falsely entered a plea of guilty.
“Although this Court awarded Ms. Goff access to DNA testing, and although some of that DNA testing has been carried out, deeply probative evidence gathered from Stephen Goff’s body has never been submitted for testing because those items were either misplaced by the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory (‘ASCL’) or lost by a representative of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office (‘CCSO’), who signed for them at the ASCL but never signed them back into Carroll County’s evidence room.
“The DNA testing carried out to date has not, in any way, inculpated Ms. Goff. To the contrary, the results have all either been inconclusive or matched Mr. Goff’s profile. In light of these findings, it is clear the answers that could be revealed by probative evidence removed from Stephen Goff’s body–his fingernails as well as hairs on his shirt and hands–are simply invaluable.
“The statutory right to DNA testing afforded to Ms. Goff by this Court has, for all intents and purposes, been made impotent as critical evidence that could provide exculpatory information and challenge the conviction that has robbed Ms. Goff of her freedom cannot be found. This loss of significant evidence has crippled Ms. Goff’s ability to prove her innocence through a post-conviction DNA testing grant–a legal reality that is fundamentally unfair and thus robs Ms. Goff of her right to due process.
“For these reasons, Ms. Goff respectfully requests that this Court exercise its powers and modify Ms. Goff’s sentence to a 20-year time served plea and order her release from custody of the Department of Corrections, or, alternatively, order a new trial.”
It’s not as if Goff, now 57, hasn’t long since paid a deeply agonizing price, especially when you consider Arkansas taxpayers cover Carroll County Prosecutor Tony Rogers’ salary and he is spending their money keeping her incarcerated on such an incredibly weak case, and when the county’s own officers lost the evidence that might well have proven her innocence.
I also ask why, when the state willingly offered Goff a 10-year sentence for “manslaughter” in 1996, would he keep her incarcerated 22 years later?
Goff’s now-grown daughter, Bridgette Jones, said this: “Our words seem flat and ineffective. If you can imagine screaming with all your might begging for help and watching as people turn and walk away … that’s what we’ve dealt with over two decades. Our family has never been allowed to be victims. I lost my stepfather. My two brothers, Mark and Stephen Lee, lost their dad. But we’ve been discounted because we support our mother’s innocence.”
I’m sincerely hoping those who read about this astonishing case will respond by contacting Rogers at (870) 423-6869 and/or the governor at (501) 682-3623, or at State Capitol, 500 Woodlane St., Suite 250, Little Rock, Ark. 72201, or leaving a message through the website at governor.arkansas.gov.